I’d heard of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a blues singer from the pre-Elvis days, but I couldn’t name any of her songs if you threatened to shoot my dogs. And I’d never thought of her as a godmother–maybe THE godmother–of rock’n’roll. Fusion explains why all should be incredibly grateful to this woman.
Rosetta Tharpe was born 100 years ago today—March 20, 1915, twenty years before Elvis, a decade before Chuck Berry. And she could play the rock and roll guitar better than anyone, before anyone.
Now, rock and roll has a lot of parents. Any movement so big in popular music isn’t just invented by one person. But if anybody can claim the title of Mother of Rock and Roll, it would be Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Coming out of the gospel world, she was willing to cross over into playing for secular audiences, and more importantly, she just knew how to wield the axe in a way that is uncannily modern.
“She had a major impact on artists like Elvis Presley,” her biographer Gayle Wald told a documentary film crew. “When you see Elvis Presley singing songs early in his career, I think you [should] imagine, he is channeling Rosetta Tharpe. It’s not an image that I think we’re used to thinking of in rock and roll history. We don’t think about the black woman behind the young white man.”
Keep reading. And listen to this.